Letter | Published:

Anthropogenic forcing dominates global mean sea-level rise since 1970

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 701705 (2016) | Download Citation

This article has been updated

Abstract

Sea-level change is an important consequence of anthropogenic climate change, as higher sea levels increase the frequency of sea-level extremes and the impact of coastal flooding and erosion on the coastal environment, infrastructure and coastal communities1,2. Although individual attribution studies have been done for ocean thermal expansion3,4 and glacier mass loss5, two of the largest contributors to twentieth-century sea-level rise, this has not been done for the other contributors or total global mean sea-level change (GMSLC). Here, we evaluate the influence of greenhouse gases (GHGs), anthropogenic aerosols, natural radiative forcings and internal climate variability on sea-level contributions of ocean thermal expansion, glaciers, ice-sheet surface mass balance and total GMSLC. For each contribution, dedicated models are forced with results from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) climate model archive6. The sum of all included contributions explains 74 ± 22% (±2σ) of the observed GMSLC over the period 1900–2005. The natural radiative forcing makes essentially zero contribution over the twentieth century (2 ± 15% over the period 1900–2005), but combined with the response to past climatic variations explains 67 ± 23% of the observed rise before 1950 and only 9 ± 18% after 1970 (38 ± 12% over the period 1900–2005). In contrast, the anthropogenic forcing (primarily a balance between a positive sea-level contribution from GHGs and a partially offsetting component from anthropogenic aerosols) explains only 15 ± 55% of the observations before 1950, but increases to become the dominant contribution to sea-level rise after 1970 (69 ± 31%), reaching 72 ± 39% in 2000 (37 ± 38% over the period 1900–2005).

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Change history

  • 15 April 2016

    In the version of this Letter originally published, in the paragraph above equation 1 in the Methods section, a percentage value was mistakenly included due to a typographical error. This error has been corrected in all versions of the Letter.

References

  1. 1.

    et al. Coastal flood damage and adaptation costs under 21st century sea-level rise. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3292–3297 (2014).

  2. 2.

    et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 1137–1216 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  3. 3.

    & Quantifying anthropogenic and natural contributions to thermosteric sea level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 2502–2507 (2014).

  4. 4.

    , , & Detection and attribution of global mean thermosteric sea-level change. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 5951–5959 (2014).

  5. 5.

    , , & Attribution of global glacier mass loss to anthropogenic and natural causes. Science 345, 919–921 (2014).

  6. 6.

    , & An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

  7. 7.

    et al. Twentieth-century global-mean sea level rise: is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? J. Clim. 26, 4476–4499 (2013).

  8. 8.

    et al. Detecting anthropogenic footprints in sea level rise. Nature Commun. 6, 7849 (2015).

  9. 9.

    , & Past and future sea-level change from the surface mass balance of glaciers. Cryosphere 6, 1295–1322 (2012).

  10. 10.

    et al. Estimating the Greenland ice sheet surface mass balance contribution to future sea level rise using the regional atmospheric climate model MAR. Cryosphere 7, 469–489 (2013).

  11. 11.

    & The response of glaciers to intrinsic climate variability: observations and models of late-Holocene variations in the Pacific Northwest. J. Glaciol. 55, 839–854 (2009).

  12. 12.

    et al. Randolph Glacier Inventory—A Dataset of Global Glacier Outlines Version 4.0. (Global Land Ice Measurements from Space, 2014).

  13. 13.

    , , & Brief communication: global glacier mass loss reconstructions during the 20th century are consistent. Cryosphere 9, 2399–2404 (2015).

  14. 14.

    Geodetic and direct mass-balance measurements: comparison and joint analysis. Ann. Glaciol. 50, 96–100 (2009).

  15. 15.

    , , & Evaluating the ability of process based models to project sea-level change. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 014051 (2013).

  16. 16.

    & Multicentennial variability of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and its climatic influence in a 4000 year simulation of the GFDL CM2.1 climate model. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L13702 (2012).

  17. 17.

    et al. Past and future contribution of global groundwater depletion to sea-level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L09402 (2012).

  18. 18.

    , & Impact of artificial reservoir water impoundment on global sea level. Science 320, 212–214 (2008).

  19. 19.

    et al. A reconciled estimate of ice-sheet mass balance. Science 338, 1183–1189 (2012).

  20. 20.

    et al. Spatial and temporal distribution of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet since AD 1900. Nature 528, 396–400 (2015).

  21. 21.

    & Sea-level rise from the late 19th to the early 21st century. Surv. Geophys. 32, 585–602 (2011).

  22. 22.

    & Experiments in reconstructing twentieth-century sea levels. Prog. Oceanogr. 91, 496–515 (2011).

  23. 23.

    , , , & Trends and acceleration in global and regional sea levels since 1807. Glob. Planet. Change 113, 11–22 (2014).

  24. 24.

    , , & Probabilistic reanalysis of twentieth-century sea-level rise. Nature 517, 481–484 (2015).

  25. 25.

    et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 383–464 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  26. 26.

    et al. Revisiting the Earth’s sea-level and energy budgets from 1961 to 2008. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L18601 (2011).

  27. 27.

    et al. Unabated global mean sea-level rise over the satellite altimeter era. Nature Clim. Change 5, 565–568 (2015).

  28. 28.

    , & Analysis of the regional pattern of sea level change due to ocean dynamics and density change for 1993–2099 in observations and CMIP5 AOGCM’s. Clim. Dynam. 45, 2647–2666 (2015).

  29. 29.

    , , & Climate drift in CMIP5 Models. J. Clim. 26, 8597–8615 (2013).

  30. 30.

    , , , & A new, high-resolution surface mass balance map of Antarctica (1979–2010) based on regional atmospheric climate modeling. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L04501 (2012).

Download references

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table 1) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP, the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and leads development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. A.B.A.S. is supported by a CSIRO Office of the Chief Executive Fellowship and the NWO-Netherlands Polar Program. J.A.C. is partially supported by the Australian Climate Change Science Program. B.M. and K.R. were supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): P25362-N26, and by the Austrian Ministry of Science BMWF as part of the UniInfrastrukturprogramm of the Focal Point Scientific Computing at the University of Innsbruck.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia

    • Aimée B. A. Slangen
    •  & John A. Church
  2. Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht (IMAU), Utrecht University, 3584 CC Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Aimée B. A. Slangen
  3. Département de Géographie, Université de Liège, B11-4000 Liège, Belgium

    • Cecile Agosta
    •  & Xavier Fettweis
  4. Institute of Geography, University of Bremen, 28359 Bremen, Germany

    • Ben Marzeion
  5. Institute of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences, University of Innsbruck, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria

    • Kristin Richter

Authors

  1. Search for Aimée B. A. Slangen in:

  2. Search for John A. Church in:

  3. Search for Cecile Agosta in:

  4. Search for Xavier Fettweis in:

  5. Search for Ben Marzeion in:

  6. Search for Kristin Richter in:

Contributions

J.A.C. and B.M. initiated the study. A.B.A.S. provided the thermal expansion data, carried out the analysis together with J.A.C. and produced the figures. B.M. and K.R. provided the glacier model data. X.F. and C.A. provided the ice sheet SMB model data. A.B.A.S. led the writing with the assistance of J.A.C., and all authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aimée B. A. Slangen.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Information

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2991

Further reading